Mike Baxter (LMS) And Redeemed Capitalism

One of my favorite shows on TV, and the list is getting smaller every year, is Last Man Standing (LMS). I am a big Tim Allen fan, but I also enjoy Nancy Travis and the other characters that are a part of this sitcom. Friday night’s episode was very good. Ryan, the son-in-law, is a liberal from Canada. Over the years that scenario has set up very funny interchanges with the conservative head of the household, Mike Baxter (Tim Allen).

A Couple of years ago there was an episode where Mike’s dad opened a pot shop in Denver called Bud’s Buds. That in itself was very funny. But earlier this season, Bud passed away. Mike was not too sure what to do, but Ryan, the son-in-law, the liberal from Canada decided to take over the business. It appears that the business is doing well, and Ryan is making a lot of money. So much money that Ryan decided he was going to fix up the upstairs of the building to expand the business. There was a very funny interaction between Ryan and Mike where Mike calls Ryan a Capitalist. Ryan said later in the program that he did not know himself anymore, which was because he began to see government intrude into his business, making it very difficult for him to expand the business. The climax of the episode was Ryan learning that he could both make a profit and care for people.

Making a profit allows us to care about the people in our communities and workplaces. We can hire more people, we can give money to charities, and we can provide the training needed for people to have better and more fulfilling jobs. This is when Capitalism is at its best. An example of this is Kitchen Aid, which is a part of the Whirlpool Corporation.

In today’s Wall Street Journal, under the heading of Human Capital, there was the story of Jennifer Hanna. She has been an employee of Whirlpool Corporation since 1991. She manages 1000 people in the Kitchen Aid division. The relationship between Jennifer and Whirlpool has been so good, she would never leave. Whirlpool believes that its business would “fail without people.” This philosophy seems to be important in this current labor situation.

The U.S. labor market is tightening, and because of company’s lack of employee development they are having trouble maintaining a strong workforce. Some think this is due to the many baby boomers who are retiring, but John D. Stoll states you can “blame it on a wave of skilled baby boomers retiring or colleges teaching the wrong things or a lack of loyalty among younger workers.” Personally, I think you reap what you sew. Companies have treated their employees like garbage, and this new generation has listened to their parents complain and don’t see value in working for the same companies their parents did. This makes it tough on companies that need employees because their aging workforce is leaving.

Instead of seeing employee development as someone else’s problem, Whirlpool has made it a very important part of its strategy. Jennifer Hanna is a great example of that, and as a result she is a loyal employee. Jennifer started at Whirlpool in 1991, and Whirlpool’s college tuition program helped her to attend college, leading to advancement through the various ranks of management.

In my own experience the Boeing Company paid for all of my education. When I graduated from high school I attended college for one year. I dropped out and went to work. I really wanted to party. From 1969 through early 1974 I worked for McCulloch Corporation making chain saws. Eventually, I left that company, studied Machine Shop Technology, and became a Quality Inspector. In 1977 I was hired by the Boeing Company. I worked for four years and got laid off. I returned to Boeing in 1982, and the rest they say is history. I figure Boeing paid about $100,000 for my education, through a PhD. I had a very good career at Boeing, and proud of what I was able to experience there.

It turns out that Boeing and Whirlpool are not the only two companies that provide educational benefits for their employees. “88% of companies offer some type of educational assistance according to Salary.com.” Bright Horizons, a company I have never heard of before, is an education benefits provider. They say that “56% of workers would not pursue education without employer support.” I know that at one point in time Boeing was spending about $25 million per quarter on education benefits for its employees, but I was amazed at how much companies are spending on education. Since 2013 companies across the US have spent $440 billion on corporate training initiatives.

This is a very tangible way to redeem Capitalism. All businesses, whether large or small, should recognize the importance of its employees. In his classic book Competitive Advantage Through People, Jeffry Pfeffer states, “The constraints of the environment, the legacy of history, old ways of thinking, and internal resistance are all real and potent factors. Some firms overcome these forces and find a more effective way of operating, and others do not.. . However, recall that if making changes to achieve competitive advantage through people were easy, everyone would do it and the advantage would neither be as large nor as sustainable as it presently seems to be” (1995, p. 223). This just may not be an option anymore.

Throughout our nation many young people are looking to dangerous ideologies thinking that these have the answers. They don’t realize just how destructive they can be. However, when people are struggling with putting food on the table, medical costs, or the cost of getting an education, which leads them to feel like they are drowning, they will seek answers that give them relief. It is now time for business to give back. If a live wage will take 1% of your bottom line, and employees become more productive, that 1% can be replaced with additional revenue. It needs to be done because it is the right thing to do.

Some people think Capitalism needs to go away. I say it just needs to work the way it is supposed to work providing opportunities for all. Those who are in leadership roles should make sure the people that work for them are cared for. That is what Mike Baxter did. He built Outdoor man from nothing, but never forgot the people who worked with him along the way. I know that is just a TV show, but there are people who are doing that is real life. We just need more companies to do that.

And that is my thought for the day!

One thought on “Mike Baxter (LMS) And Redeemed Capitalism

  1. I find it funny that many people find a contradiction between being a liberal and being a capitalist. Liberals love capitalism (private property as the essence of capitalism) as liberals are for freedom as the label “liberal” implies. There is also a common misunderstanding between liberalism and socialism. As socialists are in general good capitalist. (Socialism not to be confused with communism where there is not private property.)
    As it is well known, FDR the socialist saved capitalism in the USA in the 1930s with his New Deal program.
    The problem that business people have when dealing with their business is not socialism is bureaucracy!
    Which is the same problem that many businesses have internally when they grow too much.

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